I don’t care how avid an enthusiast someone is for their tennis hobby; it’s just not the same as being a rider.
You know how when you meet someone new and you are trying to have small talk to feel out if this could be a potential friend, or if you should just keep moving? (Or, at least, remember how we used to do that, pre-Covid)?
One of the questions that’s often asked is, “What do you do?” Now, that could mean, “What do you do for a living?” or “What do you do for fun?” Some people are fortunate enough that their career is also their passion, and so this question is rather easy.
Me, I struggle with a good (or at least a succinct) answer. The real question is, “Who are you, and what are you all about?” I don’t work outside the home, which is a choice my husband and I made together and I am very grateful for the ability to make that choice. So who am I? I am a wife, daughter, sister, mother, writer, artist, and an equestrian.
It’s this last bit, the equestrian, that is the hardest to explain to people outside the horse world. They view riding as a hobby, whereas we know it’s so much more than that. A hobby is something you enjoy. You likely make time for it, but if life gets busy, it’s easy to set it aside for a couple weeks, even months. You might have great enthusiasm for your hobby, but you could just as easily simply enjoy it. As an adult, I would consider the vast majority of sports to be hobbies.
So when I answer someone with, “Well, most of the time I am running around like an octopus on roller skates, and also, I ride,” it kind of falls flat. I don’t care how avid an enthusiast someone is for their tennis hobby, it’s just not the same.
My husband is an excellent golfer. Golf is his escape from the real world and I love that he has that. He hasn’t played in ten weeks. Now, I certainly do not fault him for that—the weather has been gross on his days off, life makes other plans, etc. While I know he is itching to get back on the course, and he may find that his hiatus affects his game, his clubs will be just fine when he goes to play again. His golf clubs won’t be out of shape, the ball won’t hold a grudge, his tees won’t regress from where they were.
And this is the fundamental difference for equestrians. Even assuming we board our horses and we are not responsible for feeding and cleaning stalls on a daily basis, if I was to not ride for ten weeks, I would be paying for the consequences of my actions for the next six months. Trust, connection, and fitness are easy to lose, but much harder to get back. I cannot set the pony in the back of the garage with the golf clubs until spring comes.
For some, riding can be a hobby. Taking lessons once a week on a school horse falls into the hobby category. I would even go so far as to say that owning a horse or horses in full care/training can be a hobby. But, for the overwhelming majority of equestrians, it is very much a lifestyle, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
A lifestyle is all-encompassing. A lifestyle is something we make sacrifices to have, because not having it feels impossible. A lifestyle is a deep and enduring passion. A lifestyle defines who we are at our core, and we will fight tooth and nail to protect our animals that very much make up part of our life. I gladly give up Louboutins for aluminum pony shoes. I have traded vacations for weekends spent in a camper at a horse show. I happily rewear breeches that are older than my pony, so that he gets what he needs. Being an equestrian is a lifestyle, because it is the thing that defines our life.
When I look back over my life, the horses and ponies have been the constant more than anything else. For sure, my family is the highest priority, but the ponies are a VERY close second. For every moment in time that I look back on, either with fondness or sadness, I can tell you exactly who I was riding in that timeframe—exactly whose mane I would bury my nose in, exactly whose deep breaths could ease my mind.
You see, a hobby is something with which you fill up time, and maybe add some well-roundedness to your life. I enjoy painting and writing. They are great ways for me to de-stress, but I can just as easily go six months without picking up a paintbrush or writing a thing and be just fine. With a hobby, there is no need to be the best. It is all about wanting to enjoy myself and relax.
But a passion, a lifestyle, is something you cannot live without. It can be hard, or stressful, or painful, but the idea of giving it up is unthinkable. It fills your soul and makes you at peace with yourself. I cannot think of a better way to express what it means to be an equestrian.
*This story was originally published in the March 2021 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!